As children, Kaylie (Gillan) and Tim (Thwaites) survived an encounter with a haunted mirror which took the lives of their parents (Cochrane, Sackhoff). Now, they return to their old home to document their continuing battle with the evil object.
Writer-director Mike Flanagan’s troll abduction story Absentia was an outstanding direct-to-DVD horror film, as much for its odd attitude and unusual character drama as its scares. With Oculus — an expansion of his 2006 short Oculus: Chapter 3 — The Man With A Plan — he successfully transfers his offbeat sensibilities to the big screen. It’s in the low-key, dread-infused mode of recent horror hits like Mama, Sinister and Insidious, and revives the occasional sub-genre of ‘haunted mirror’ horror (dating back to the 1945 Dead Of Night) without going down the expected there’s-a-zombie-behind-you road.
It’s structurally unusual in a way that gets into the story swiftly, confining 95 per cent of the film to a single location but at different times. The sibling leads’ childhood encounter with the monstrous mirror is intercut with their daring, meticulously planned, obsessively determined second go-round with the vampire looking glass. Kaylie (Karen Gillan) is controlling, neurotic and fanatically vengeful, while her brother (Brenton Thwaites) has had years of therapy to convince him what happened was all in his head and is reluctant to get back into the insanity. It’s an uncommon relationship in horror, and Flanagan makes the characters intriguingly cracked in different ways. Kaylie makes elaborate precautions, which include an anchor on a timer aimed at the mirror and a doomed dog. She rattles off an amusing history of the haunting, which has killed at least 45 people, while Tim reluctantly remembers how bad things were as he resists getting caught up again.
It’s impressively acted by Gillan (with American accent) and Thwaites, backed up by Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan as young Kaylie and Tim and good, simmering work from Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff as the possessed parents. It has its share of shocks, but works more on a level of stretched nerves and general creepiness — and is less inclined to let its characters off easily than most recent horrors.
A good, small-scale horror movie with unusually interesting roles for cult TV stars Gillan and Sackhoff who both get more to do than play scared and run screaming. Flanagan is a director to watch.